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Challenges Ahead For Amit Shah

If he manages to wrest Assam from the Congress in this election year, he will rise several notches in RSS assessment. Whether the BJP, under him, manages to improve its showing in states like West Bengal and Kerala will also be watched

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Amit Shah, like Narendra Modi, was once an outsider to “Delhi politics”. During the period of his legal troubles, when he would come to Delhi, and stay in Gujarat Bhawan, he would routinely visit then Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley’s office in Parliament. It was Team Jaitley that advised him on matters legal. Other party leaders who were part of then firefighting legal team – Bhupender Yadav, then an upcoming BJP leader – got acquainted with Shah.

After crafting a stunning victory in Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha seats, when Shah was made party president to serve the remainder term – after party chief Rajnath Singh joined the Cabinet – Shah’s team was largely populated by his first acquaintances in Delhi. Jaitley, thus, was a key influence. Others like Bhupender Yadav were made party general secretary.

Over a period of time, this became the biggest complaint against Shah. That he didn’t pick right kind of people for key posts. That he allotted party work to anyone who came in contact with him. That a large talent pool in the party was left untouched. That virtual lightweights became his key men in the party apparatus.

Now that Shah has got his first full-fledged term – many say that he may get an extension so that he continues to helm the party when Narendra Modi seeks re-election in 2019 – optimal use of human resources is going to be a key challenge for Shah.

Shah is an excellent organizer and manager. He likes to micromanage affairs at the ground level. Yet he remains inaccessible to even party MPs. This has been one complaint that he will have to address in his new term.

After a string of assembly wins, the BJP had to face a rout in Delhi and then in Bihar. In Bihar, Shah had taken the entire campaign in his own hands. Even his critics concede that there are very few leaders, not to talk of party presidents, who are as hard-working. But his Bihar gambit backfired. Party veterans like L.K. Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi said that the party was facing a crisis. There were murmurs that the RSS was itching to get a greater control over the party, and that it would prefer a more pliant leader as party president.

That veterans like Advani and Joshi have still not come to terms with their marginalization in the party was evident when they refused to show up during Shah’s “coronation”. While their opposition doesn’t really count, when the party is standing rock-solid behind Modi, Shah, however, will have to consult the veterans (margdarshak mandal) and routinely apprise them of important decisions.

Modi may have prevailed over a reluctant RSS to let his protégé have a fuller term, but Shah will be keenly watched. If he manages to wrest Assam from the Congress in this election year, he will rise several notches in RSS assessment. Whether the BJP, under him, manages to improve its showing in states like West Bengal and Kerala will also be watched.

His big test will come in 2017 in UP – dubbed as semi-final, before the 2019 parliamentary elections. Punjab assembly elections in the same year too would be crucial.

Shah will also have to live with a greater RSS influence in appointments – both in the central team and in various states.

During the Rajnath era, the BJP used to proudly proclaim that it had implemented one-third reservation for women in the organization. In his new team, Shah will have to ensure that the women get their due.

As the Rohith Vemulla agitation turned the debate to Dalit representation in the BJP leadership – and there being not a single Dalit as party general secretary or vice president – Shah will also have to ensure that the Dalits find their voice at the top, specially when they voted in large numbers for the party in the last general elections.

The road ahead is full of challenges for Shah. If Modi has to win another term, Shah will have to ensure that he shows more flexibility while adapting to the changing socio-political realities.